U.S. Senate passes defense bill with amendment on N.K. sanctions

WASHINGTON-- The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a defense bill amended to include provisions for the strengthening of sanctions against North Korea.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which approves US$750 billion in spending and outlines defense policy, passed the Senate 86-8. It will need to be reconciled with a House of Representatives version before being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

An amendment introduced by several senators, including Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calls for secondary sanctions on financial institutions that conduct business with North Korea in violation of existing sanctions on Pyongyang.

The measures would especially affect Chinese banks.

The amendment, which was introduced as a bill in 2017, is named the Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act.

Warmbier, an American college student, died that year after being returned to the U.S. in a coma following more than a year of detention in North Korea for allegedly trying to steal a political poster.

U.S.-North Korea negotiations on dismantling the regime's nuclear weapons program have hit an impasse since their second summit in February ended without a deal.

In March, Trump ordered the withdrawal of additional sanctions, saying he didn't think they were necessary at the time.

The announcement via Twitter sparked confusion as to which sanctions he was referring to, as the Treasury Department had announced a new set of sanctions a day earlier.

This month saw an exchange of personal letters between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, leading to hopes of a resumption of talks, with Trump set to visit South Korea on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, the defense bill also restricts the drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea from the current level of 28,500.

It prohibits the use of funds for such a reduction until 90 days after the U.S. defense secretary certifies to Congress that the move is in the interest of U.S. national security and commensurate with the reduction in threat posed by North Korea's conventional military forces.

The defense secretary is also required to certify that U.S. allies, including South Korea and Japan, have been "appropriately" consulted regarding such a reduction.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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